Blogging a real-time memoir about converting an old Methodist church into a home (churchsweethome.com), Monica Lee is the author of three memoirs/autobiographical fiction books: Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of "Like" in 1982, How to Look Hot & Feel Amazing in Your 40s: The 21-Day Age-Defying Diet, Exercise & Everything Makeover Plan and The Percussionist's Wife.
It’s Memorial Day, and the lilacs are heavy with fragrant blooms as they ought to be in late May. I have two more lilac bushes on my property that I didn’t realize were ours last year when I counted only one bush. Though choosing a favorite flower is a bit like choosing a favorite child, lilacs are among my favorite.
Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring people who have died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Stop, smell the lilacs and remember a soldier.
Teddy Roosevelt spoke these words in an address at the opening of his gubernatorial campaign for New York in 1898. He was a war hero, fresh from the Rough Riders’ Battle of San Juan Heights in Cuba during the war with Spain. Three years later, he would become president.
Our little church was just seven years old when Roosevelt was running for governor five states away.
I chose Roosevelt’s quote because it was appropriate for commemorating America’s fallen solders on Memorial Day but also because it reflects the greatness of our little renovation project, which demanded much effort, sacrifice and certainly courage.
Wishing you a blessed Memorial Day weekend that includes a moment to ponder the sacrifice of the soldiers who make it possible and the ways you can live up to such high ideals.
Preparing pictures for the Hall of History has been challenging, but I am reveling in a recent triumph.
The Hall of History, you regular readers might recall, is the hallway between the great room and the master suite. We left the flooring rustic and installed original milk lights from elsewhere in the church for lighting. The walls will, one day, be covered with historical photos of the church and our families. I’ve been gathering bits and pieces from my own collection to frame, but it’s slow work. I spent an entire afternoon recently visiting local libraries and museums looking for historical photos of the church and came up with nothing.
However, a former member of the church gifted us with a pile of photos of the church from her archive, and one of them was an image of the last pastor teaching a lesson for vacation Bible school from the front of the church. It was a great representation of the altar area when it was in use.
I paired the photo with a brass plate given to me by an interested party who salvaged it when she saw the altar on the curb as the congregation was preparing our church to be vacated. She was a little sad to see the altar disposed of in this manner but she couldn’t save the altar, so she saved the dedication plate. She made me promise to do something respectful with it.
August F. Esch was presumably a pillar of the old Methodist church in the early 20th century, I’m guessing. The story I’ve made up in my mind is that his family chose to subsidize a new altar that was installed in the church when the orientation of the front of the worship area was moved from the east side to the north side in the 1940s.
I brought the photo, the brass plate and a brief explanation of the pieces to Michaels framing department to have it professionally displayed. I chose a simple black frame to match the other frames I have planned for the Hall of History. The resulting whole was definitely greater than a sum of the parts.
My next step is to visit the county courthouse and spend some time in the abstract office to see what the official record says about the construction of the church and the property on which it sits. Wish me luck!
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Today’s headline is a quote from Joseph de Maistre, a philosopher during the French Revolution.
[Well, if that ain’t a sentence you don’t hear every day.]
We went junking at “Wisconsin’s Finest” antique flea market (leave it to a marketer to describe flea-anything as “fine”) in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. More than 500 dealers laid out their vintage Mason jars, wooden snow shoes, rusty farm implements and galvanized buckets at the county fairgrounds in an event that occurs only four times a summer. I’ve been waiting for this first showing of the season for seven months.
Tyler asked me what I was looking for, and I said I just wanted to look, which typifies the gender differences in shopping. A man hunts for something specific, a woman looks around until something catches her eye.
As it turned out, a spire caught Tyler’s eye. This steel spire with Victorian era fleur-de-lis detailing had been salvaged from the turret of a decrepit late 1800s mansion in Vilas County, Wisconsin.
We’ve discussed over the past year how we wanted to finish the top of the belfry (it’s now just flat above the top shingles), and we’d sort of determined we wanted to replace the spire that was once on top of it. Tyler sourced a manufacturer of fiberglass spires for traditional churches, and we thought we might pursue that when the time came. Just the pointy top, no cross.
We liked the size of this beauty (about six feet) and the fleur-de-lis detailing. Fleur-de-lis is French for flower of the lily; it’s a stylized emblem of the French monarchy that appears in all sorts of modern design. Though it has no Victorian details, our building was built in the late Victorian era, about the same time as the mansion from which the spire was salvaged.
Our junk spire needs a bit of straightening and a coat of rust-proof paint. We’re thinking we might paint the petals gray and the rest of the spire white.
Tyler is working on siding the garage right now, but after that, he’s focusing on siding the belfry, so for now our new-old spire awaits its new home in our great room.
As we were leaving the fairgrounds with our booty, one woman remarked, “I hope you didn’t pay what it’s marked” (we didn’t, you flinty tightwad) and another woman said “how cool it that!” (thank you for noticing our good taste).
I didn’t know what we’d find today, but I’m so pleased, I’m marking my calendar for next month’s finest flea market!
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Today’s headline is the first line from a poem by Thomas Gray: Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.
Tyler has a little more time to devote to gardening pursuits this year than he did last year when he was hammering and assembling and sawing and sweeping like it was his job to turn the old church into a home.
He’s the one with the green thumb in our relationship. I don’t like the feel of dirt on my hands, what can I say. But he dives right into a pile of compost like it was bread dough.
We preserved the front garden of the church, a flower plot I showed off here earlier this week, but we destroyed four raised gardens in back last year when we poured concrete for the garage. I understand those gardens were used to grow vegetables for the food pantry that operated out of the basement before we acquired the property.
Tyler moved the vegetable garden to the far corner of the property under the flag pole. He planted a few tomatoes and peppers there last year, but he’s expanded it this summer. Earlier this week, he hauled in some fresh yummy compost (well, it’s yummy to the plants!) which St. Johnny was designated to spread around; Tyler acquired the compost from the mushroom farm not too far away and, if you’re a fan of dirt, it looks “rich and thick and chocolit” (thank you, Nestle Quik, for that jingle that rattles around the brain for decades).
A number of benefactors have contributed flowers and plants and decorative grasses to the landscaping at Church Sweet Home (thank you, benefactors!), and a few of the gifts have found a home on the street side of the vegetable garden. Behind them, Tyler has begun planting a few vegetables, and he made room for a few more being percolated in a friend’s green house.
He also found some colorful tomato cages at our favorite home improvement palace, Home Depot. I find it amusing that an entrepreneur would paint tomato cages; they’re nice now, but before long, they will be so obscured by the plants that it won’t matter what color they are. To each his own.
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Today’s headline is the beginning of a Mother Goose nursery rhyme that is nonsensical, even to the nongardeners among us: Mary, Mary, quite contrary/How does your garden grow?/With silver bells and cockleshells/And pretty maids all in a row.
As we have reinvested in home furnishings and decorations to style our Church Sweet Home, we’ve run across a number of amazing artists and vendors. Sometimes the vendor is a big-box-type store but more often it’s an online retailer or a local vendor. On some Wednesdays here on Church Sweet Home, I will share our latest find and reveal who provided it to help other interested home designers.
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Next to the 20-foot-tall fireplace that replaced the red velvet curtain behind the altar in the former church, our spiral stairway is a focal point in our great room. It lends sweeping drama to the space, and I almost can’t believe I’ve neglected to mention its manufacturer, a spiral stairs maker just around the corner that’s been making distinctive metalwork for 70 years.
But I was reminded of Wells Spiral Stairs this week when Tyler erected in our garden a plant hanger made especially for us by the spirals folks. It now stands in the little flower plot begun I don’t know how many years ago by the gardeners of the church congregation (and I’m still reaping the rewards of their efforts in the form of beautiful perennials; see the final picture of this post). Tyler hung a couple of planters he found buried in our cargo trailer (we moved in, you remember, as fall was descending upon us so luxuries in storage such as outdoor plant hangers were passed over in favor of the stuff we would actually be needing over the winter).
Despite having “spiral stairs” in the name, Wells will make just about anything out of steel that a homeowner could desire: Gates, arches, sign holders, furniture, spice racks, even vashu towers, hanging metal decks and yes, plant hangers. They made all the metal railings in our converted church including the balcony railing, the coordinating entryway railing and the handrails on the back stairway and two-step stairway of the balcony. The proprietress even sourced the unique ball for the top of our spiral stairway and had her foreman paint it inside and out.
Their stock-in-trade, though, remains the spiral stairways. Each one is sturdily built in one piece and customized exactly to the space it will occupy and the design required. With all the lakes in south Wisconsin and northern Illinois, you can imagine Wells Spiral Stairs makes a lot of deck spirals for lake homes around here. The compact design of a spiral is perfect for small spaces and places where real estate comes at a premium (like lake front). All you need is the height and diameter of your space, and you can get a quote in no time. We were fortunate to live nearby, but the manufacturer serves all of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois and is willing to ship anywhere in the country.
Wells Spiral Stairs is located at 162 Walworth St., Genoa City, Wisconsin. You can find out more at www.wellspirals.com.
There are two kinds of people in the world: The kind who brag about how much they spent on something and the kind who tell you about the great deal they scored.
If you haven’t figured out by now, what with our frequent trips across country to pick up Craig’s List finds and our limitless willingness to piece together weird parts for a greater whole in our converted church, we’re the second kind. “Look at this amazing deal!”
For me anyway, I think it’s my Minnesota roots via Scandinavia. It’s common to compliment a Minnesota woman on her becoming frock and hear about the size of its discount on the clearance rack.
So, let me just say, “Guess how much this cost?!”
[Waiting expectantly for a low guess. But not too low. I want to wow you.]
Only 5 bucks!
I know, right?
As I mined the clearance racks at the various home stores I frequent looking for interesting tchotchkes with which to style my shelves and tables, I found this lighted rustic I and U. Apparently, little baby Ulysseses and Ingaborgs are rare so mommas decorating their baby rooms passed over these gems. The only other letter on the rack was a D, and who wants a DUI? They had the perfect shabby modern look I’m going for in Church Sweet Home. They were only a dollar each (batteries not included).
To me, they weren’t lonely letters but a statement about me and my hubby: U & I.
U & I!
All I needed was the ampersand.
I love ampersands. They are so much more interesting that the word and.
So I cruised the craft store until I found a galvanized ampersand for only $2.95!
I was so pleased.
When I got home, I assembled my little statement on the shelf at the front of our sanctuary. I flipped the switch and ta, da! Instant glamour and romance.